The short version: Take some money and go to A Rebours right now. Eat the food.
The longer version:
On a whim, my sweetie and I went to A Rebours for dinner last night. We ambled in, and were immediately seated by a friendly fellow who proceeded to talk about the East Coast with my date, when he learned that they had some common geography. The room is simple and spare but very pleasant, with a lot of hard surfaces that make for a lively sound when the place fills. It feels more planned than Bakery on Grand, but not in a 'we hired the best restaurant themer in the business' kind of way. More like whoever is behind it wanted a room they'd be comfortable in for long stretches.
As we had a deuce in the bar, the bartender became our server, and he eased over promptly, talked over some drink choices, and eased away. We studied the menu. We had cocktails that were perhaps a bit more watery than they needed to be, as if shaken a little violently, rather than stirred. My sweetie's, a Sidecar, was executed a bit more to my liking than my Manhattan, so I switched to a Sidecar for a second drink. The seating area in the bar is simply an extension of the dining room. The bar itself is tiny, about a half dozen stools, and feels geared more to lunch traffic than serious drinking.
After much wrangling amongst ourselves, eventually we ordered. The bartender was helpful, enthusiastic, and seemed to know his menu well. He also pointed out what they were out of (1 entree) before we had a chance to become attached to the idea. I should add that, though we were in the bar, we were given the standard dinner menu.
We started with the soft shell crab and the chilled pea soup. The crabs, though smaller than I would like (in fairness, I'd like them the size of frisbees), perched in a creamy chilled corn soup (and waving their claws jauntily) with some dollops of red onion and finely diced tomato. They were crispy, delicious, and wholly trounced my rule about not ordering seafood in the midwest. The corn soup was wonderfully sweet, and played nicely against the crab. The only complaint I have about the crab, is that I didn't get a spoon for the soup. The bartender fixed that in seconds. The chilled pea soup tasted like liquid springtime, and I wasn't allowed more than a couple of tastes.
Nicely timed, our entrees arrived a few minutes after our starters left. The food runner started to give us each other's plates, but the bartender caught this, and fixed it just before we did.
My sweetie had the Cote du Boeuf (sp?), I the braised lamb shank. The lamb was meaty, scrumptious, and falling off the bone at a touch, with just enough fat. It fell off the bone into a garlic jus that wasn't terribly garlicky, but was fabulous anyway, especially with their first rate bread to sop it up. It got to the point where I was gnawing the bone. My date looked the other way. In the bottom of the bowl was a nice assortment of black olives, roasted spuds, an artichoke heart or two, and I believe some fava beans, all of which played very happily together.
My date's beef was, perhaps, a wee bit better than my lamb, but it was a near thing. It had a wedge of what I took to be something galette (sp?) like, with thin slices of potato and gruyere cheese, along with a dollop of a tomato chutney sort of business, that was more tomato paste than chutney-chunky in its texture. All the flavors in the beef got along quite swimmingly.
We had asked the bartender to just bring us a couple of glasses of red wine that would go well with our entrees. She ended up with a French Red (Cote du Rhone, I think), and I a Fess Parker Pinot Noir. Both went very well with the eats, though I think that I liked hers a little better, but I tend to like big reds. While I cannot swear to it, I think that there is a chance that these wines were not on the 'by the glass' wine list, which would make this a gracious gesture on the part of the bartender if true.
After all this, given the place's parentage, we had to have dessert. My date chose a chocolate cake, I opted for profiteroles. The profiteroles, three dear little guys lined up on a plate, were very nicely done. Personally, I like one big profiterole, since the little ones are just over bite size. Though if you take a breath, you can knock one back in a single bite, and the flavors and textures all explode like happy fireworks in your mouth. Yeah, whatever, but my date's chocolate cake was a singular kicker of much butt. A tiny little individual flourless cake, about the diameter of a cupcake, but a little shorter, topped with creme fraiche sorbet, and guarded by seven golden (and possibly rum soaked) raisins. This turned out to tie with the chocolate souffle at New York's Eleven Madison Park as the best chocolate dessert to enter my mouth in a restaurant. Coffee was smoky, strong, and fresh, just as it should be.
With tax, before tip, our total was just under a hundred and thirty bucks. While a tad more than we were expecting to spend, the soft shell crab is an expensive starter, and the beef is not cheap, at twenty-eight bucks. Overall, we felt that we got good value, and are podering sticking up a liquor store to fund a rapid return.
To sum up. Cocktails only fair (though very reasonably priced, considering that we called our liquors). Starters and desserts were terrific, if a teensy bit precious (I am especially thinking of the raisin guardians and the tiny crabs, here). What made them seem precious, though, was the contrast with the entrees, which came across to me as exquisitely prepared peasant fare, which is in no way meant as a slight to either the entrees or their companions. Service was amiable, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and vigilant.
For years, I have been looking for something that gives me the feel of Danny Meyer's joints in NYC, in terms of food, service, and atmosphere, here at home. Odds are that we have found a strong contender in A Rebours, and our finances are the only thing keeping us from running back tonight. So all of you go there for us.